bob frump pic

There are a lot of facts emerging from the Zimmerman-Martin trial, but few truths.

Here is one, I know for sure.

If you decide to carry a gun, consider the complex consequences you carry with you.  Because the barrel does indeed shoot both ways.

I say this as a walking paradox. I am a life-long liberal who grew up in farm county and believe owning and shooting a gun is almost second nature in life.  I support the Second.  I also favor sane regulations of guns — also cars, train locomotives, airplanes, acids and napalm.

And I say this as someone who probably can shoot better than 80 percent of rock-ribbed right wingers who watched too many Red Dawn reruns. I have been thoroughly trained through many days of courses in the use of guns for self-defense, distance shooting and, well, assaults with assault rifles.

Hundreds of hours at gun ranges and classes mean I can put two rounds into a pie-plate target five football fields away with a good spotter, and also dump and reload an assault rifle magazine  while covering my field of fire with a pistol.  I grew up hunting pheasants from age 10 and am a passable wing shot.

For a short period of time, I also carried a loaded gun with me constantly.

I did all these things while living in Texas not because I felt the need for protection.

I was working on a book about the gun culture and I figured to know it, I needed to be in it. The book was at first intended to expose the ease with which powerful weapons can be purchased — and it will someday, given the right publisher.

But I also learned as I was learning about the gun culture that despite the blowhard exterior rhetoric, inside elements are far more responsible than my fellow Easterners and big city liberals might think.  And more responsible than the Glen Beck bozo gun proponents who get most of the face time on television.

My concealed carry handgun instructor at DFW Gun in Dallas did not tell me how to shoot punks for fun.  He told me to run.

He told us — in 2010 — that the luckiest day in his life was when he did not in effect become Zimmerman.  He went into a liquor store where a teenager with a huge revolver had the clerk at bay.  The instructor’s pistol was in his pickup — left behind in the glove compartment.

We all expected this to be a warning about how you should never forget your gun.

Instead, it was the instructor’s grateful tale of how he did NOT confront the kid with a gun. Instead, the instructor managed to talk the kid down.  In truth, the kid had no intent of harming anyone but himself. He was seeking “suicide by cop.” The police did not oblige the kid and took him into custody — where he calmed down, got some care and lived a fairly normal life.

“What would I have done for the rest of my life if I had shot that kid?”” the instructor asked.  “If I had had the gun, I would have used it.  How would I feel.. if I had….shot…that…kid?

Every time you carry a gun, keep this story in mind.  What consequences will you have even in a righteous shooting if you kill someone — even someone guilty as hell?  You think you just walk away from that because you were right?”

You don’t. Plenty of study show that the barrel shoots both ways. Even our toughest warriors feel some sort of guilt, remorse or a sense of “something unnatural” after they have killed, however “cleanly” following rules of warfare, even a worthy cause. Near as they can tell, it seems to be built into our social DNA.

In Texas, I fell in with some retired Army colonels who had been in combat. You could assume these guys were tough. They were. But they were also smart and had seen the real consequences of guns shots — not just a video game or a movie. To be clear, they are ardently pro-gun.

The discussion one night fell upon a ranch a hundred miles or so south of them where “coyotes” — ruthless guides of illegal immigrants — had threatened ranch hands and fired at them.

“Why not just buy the ranch hands rifles for defense?” I asked. “If ever it would be justified, that would be it, right?”

We were in a hunting cabin with several semi-automatic rifles safely stored nearby. My friends had made it clear they were no fans of immigrants. So I thought it was a question that would be received well.

They were silent for a moment, and looked at each other. There was no eye rolling. Just a polite click of the eyes back and forth between them to me as if I had mud on my nose but it was too embarrassing to mention.

“You have second and third order effects,” my friend finally said.

“It sounds like a good plan,” he said. “The first order effect could more or less be handled if you kill the coyote or drug smuggler, or whatever, and they don’t kill you back.”

“But the consequences of actually shooting a person and living with that….” he said, and paused. “….that’s the second and third order effects. Liability might be one effect.  Your own mental well-being almost certainly will be another and it will work on you for a very, very long time.

“It takes a lot for soldiers to do that and live with it. Civilians? Well. It’s just not a good plan if you think of what you are really paying and what you are getting… You might have a few days peace, your cattle will be safe for a while, but you have a lifetime to think about what you did…and you will…”

Even if you know that though, guns can you lead you on. glock

Even if you are more or less playing a role, as I was, you feel a little too empowered sometimes.

Or so it was for me.

The four days I “carried,” I felt stupid most of the time.  I have trouble keeping track of an iPhone.  A mean little .380 Ruger automatic wasn’t much bigger and I had to struggle not to unconsciously take it out of my pocket and put it on a desk and then walk away head down on some article. There was one moment at work in my office job when I nearly “answered” my Ruger at a meeting when the iPhone rang. Instruction or not, this was awkward.

But the clincher for me was my driving.

I’m not an aggressive driver, but I’m not passive either.  I hold my own on packed highways and I don’t like being cut off.  I am not troublesome about it. I just get frustrated and mumble sometimes. “Idiot.” “Thanks pal.” “Real nice!” And my favorite: “Come on lady (fella, kid, grandma, grandpa)!” And “Go already!” That was the worst of it.

With the gun on board, I drifted toward troublesome.  If someone cut me off, I was unconsciously aware of that gun and went just a little faster on the car-villains tail or honked the horn a little longer. The self-muttering became more pronounced and profane.  I would pat the gun to make sure it was there and drive a bit faster, yell a bit louder.

And somewhere in there, I became aware of that. And hung the gun up, never to carry it again. It was empowering me all right. But empowering toward what? An argument over a traffic slight? Lethal force to settle a fender bender?

Confronting a 17-year-old kid?

I am a writer by trade and what floated back to me was some advice to writers from Chekov.

ruger

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

And this anonymous saying:  “When your tool is a hammer, you see the world ‘s problems as nails.”

If my tool was a Ruger, how was I seeing the world? And where would that take me?  If I did not intend to use the gun, why was I so to speak hanging it on the wall in the first act?

I believe the right to carry carries awesome responsibility that only a very few of us can handle — and that I could not, despite all my training.  It confers incredible power upon the carrier.  And it invites catastrophe if that power leads to confrontations that would not ordinarily take place.

Guns shoot both ways, folks. Believe it. There are “first order” effects when the gun throws a slug at a target.

But the “second and third order” events come hurtling back quick toward the shooter — in terms of liability and psychological impairment.

I wish Mr. Zimmerman — if only for his own sake — had gotten the gun instructor who warned me about this simple fact.  I wish the macho pro Stand Your Ground advocates were also next to me in that class.

And I wish most of all that responsible gun owners — not  those rooting-on tragic confrontations such as the Zimmerman case — would dispense wisdom and caution in a loud enough voice to rise above the din.

To misquote Bogie in Deadline USA, “You hear that Norcross? Those are the presses. You can’t do anything about them.”

Though focus groups from George will no doubt “prove” that architectural critic is not a reader-friendly staff position, Inqa proves it is, and that my friends is the difference between hack political bosses, data, and good, artful journalism.

(Reposting:
Casablanca, Content and The Philadelphia Inquirer: How George Norcross Damages Editorial Quality
Posted: February 10, 2014 in Contemporary Commentary
5
“The key to good content,” Michael Bloomberg told me years ago, before he was mayor, “is the ability to write Casablanca.”

Frump
“You can aggregate all the data you want about World War II, Northern Africa, gambling and the underground, but you can’t copy Casablanca.”

The context for that long ago meeting was a content exhibition where my employer at the time, a bond rating agency, feared Bloomberg would get into their business. He would not, he said, because the company essentially was the Casablanca of bond raters and did something Bloomberg could never match.

Local and regional newspapers, if they are to succeed, need to be focused on creating the conditions that create Casablanca. They don’t need to do that on a daily basis, but the readers need to know they can count on it frequently enough. The newspaper, to add value, must present something that no other local weekly or monthly magazine can.

All of which is a roundabout but necessary way to explain why the fight among owners at The Philadelphia Inquirer is not just about “business” – as most writers have suggested – but about the quality of the paper.

Part-owner George Norcross, a good businessman who is also a self-acknowledged ruthless boss of South Jersey Democrats, has proposed a number of “reforms” to the newspaper that he believes will place it back on a solid financial situation.

He has over the past year closed down the op-ed page, insisted that five top editors be fired and replaced with seven New Jersey reporters, placed his young rookie daughter more or less in charge of a free website, and sought to dismiss the top editor, Bill Marimow, and the city editor, Nancy Phillips.

If only the newspaper follows this good business plan, he has said, then the paper will regain a robust financial standing and serve as a valuable “fourth estate” in the plan by giving the readers what they want.

Norcross
In a brilliant bit of sleazy but successful channeling of Karl Rove and Lee Atwater, he also has flipped the debate of the recent controversies by putting Marimow and Phillips in the dock for somehow “meddling” in the newsroom. Of course, if you are running the newsroom, it’s hard to say how your best editorial judgments comprise “meddling.”

Through leaks and innuendo, though, Norcross has taken his opponents’ strengths and positive motives and turned them into something dark and suspect. Largely this is because the local media outlets can’t help but swallow the seductive story line without examination or counterbalance. Largely, it’s been salacious and self-parodying as writers have focused on tangential affairs of an excellent woman journalist whose success and power, apparently, must be consigned to that same dangerous feminine libido of great Tea Party concern. The local stories, in various forms, all seem to somehow suggest Phillips is a seductive witch who twists men around her little figure.

That’s nonsense of course. She just sends them to jail when they kill people. She’s a great investigative reporter. But I’ve covered that before.

What is not so clear to readers is how exactly Norcross’s businesses plan infringes on editorial quality and presents ethical concerns.

I can help you there. I’ve run newspapers, both editorial and business side. I’ve published magazines. I’ve been creating and hawking websites since 1996. Still am. I know a little bit about this.

So let’s go back in time – not far back in time – and see what sort of “Casablancas ” The Inquirer has written. And not far back in time mind you. Let’s say March 25, 2012, and the story: “

Powerful Medicine: How George Norcross used his political muscle to pump up once-ailing Cooper Hospital.

The piece is a classically good piece of investigative and analytical reporting where the two authors take a look at the Norcross machine in motion. Even-handed and fair, the article details how a hospital has fueled Norcross’s political steam roller and it reads a little like a sub-plot of All the King’s Men, where a fictional Huey Long both creates and then distorts institutions of good to his ends.

Born at Cooper, Norcross is unabashed in his enthusiasm for the hospital that he sees as performing vital medical, economic, and social roles. He also sees it as crucial to the rebirth of the city.

He adds: “I’ve come to see that Cooper’s interests and Camden’s are inseparable.”

But there’s something else that is inseparable – Norcross’ political muscle and Cooper’s agenda. In some ways, the hospital has become another piece of his political apparatus, to the mutual benefit of Democrats and Cooper.

In politics-drenched New Jersey, it’s not unusual for hospitals, with their big payrolls, big budgets, and big thirst for government money, to be political players. But few play the game as aggressively or with as much firepower as Cooper.

No other nonprofit hospital in New Jersey spends so much on lobbyists. In fact, it ranks among the top 25 nonprofit hospitals in America for lobbying expenditures according to national data.

With $775 million in annual revenue, Cooper is the largest hospital in South Jersey. And over the years, firms with ties to board members or those with a pattern of donations to Democrats in Norcross’ base of Camden County have won millions of dollars in hospital-related contracts, public records show.

Among those working at Cooper in recent years: Norcross’ insurance business and the law firm of his brother.

None of this is illegal. But the flow of campaign donations from firms doing business with the hospital has helped sustain Norcross’ Democratic organization, which over the last two decades has not only established control in towns and counties in South Jersey but has also become a driving force in the state capital.

To pull off this type of story – informative, insightful, fair – you need experienced editors and reporters. And when you do it, you gain the eyes and ears of readers, not just in South Jersey but also across that state and Philadelphia as well.

Cut those experienced editors and reporters, or reassign them to the chicken-dinner circuit in South Jersey and you l

ose the advantage of Casablanca coverage. You lose your distinction.

This is so because of the truth of an old adage in marketing strategy: The deciding factor in a battle between a grizzly and crocodile is terrain. Or in this case, the battle between one big grizzly and a hundred smaller crocs.

The Inquirer cannot go into the swamps of micro-local coverage and expect to win a battle against the myriad array of local publications and websites, even if it executes wonderfully on its local coverage.

The local publications — the hundreds of little crocs — own this space. I’ve seen it tried time and time again, by The Philadelphia Bulletin, with its hyper-local editions; by The Inquirer, with its well-done “Neighbors” sections; by The Washington Post most recently as it gave almost block-by-block coverage of its surroundings.

The big grizzlies emerge from the swamp with a dozen crocs hanging from their ears, noses and mouths, their tails between their legs and and nothing else to show for it.

At weeklies and “Patch-like” web sites, low rate ads and free subscriptions support a low-paid staff of stringers and hobbyists. Small weeklies are inherently adapted to that biosphere. But big metros can’t run in that terrain. Even if they are changed in how they gather and present news, they never will obtain that level of local readerships imitating their smaller adversar

The past thirty years gives the lie to any such strategy.

So if hyper-local journalism for metros has been thoroughly disproved, why is Norcross so vigorously following it? Is he actively attempting to undermine good investigative reporting, or just dumb about the business history of newspapers?

My guess is the latter, but the former comes hand-in-hand by his mere presence. His reputation for succeeding at all costs, makes me think he thinks he is actually steering the business in the right direction. He is also acting with the impulse of a politician who has run some masterful campaigns using regional marketing.

But many of those campaigns have been negative attack ads, aimed at a short-term goal of turnout on one Election Day. Every day is election day when you are in the newspaper business and readers vote you up and down each day. He does not seem to grasp that, having not run positive campaigns for a real product or service, just “rip your face off” framing of politicians.

Through his misunderstanding of the business of publishing, then, he is demoting quality Casablanca coverage to chicken-dinner coverage in South Jersey.

But beyond that business shortcoming is the political advantage of demoting such coverage: No more stories on Norcross. No more stories on his political allies. And no more stories like that on his nominal political opponents, who he also needs to deal with. (Norcross was thought to have made a general cease-fire political deal with Republican Chris Christie; at the very least, Norcross did not oppose him vigorously during the last election.)

That is the biggest conflict here, one touched gently upon (but admirably enough) by a Philadelphia Magazine story by Steve Volk.

Norcross is the conflict, because he is one of the biggest stories in the region. He can’t possibly run the business (through factotum publishers) without placing the paper in conflict.

But he is.

And the manner in which he is running that business will only drive The Inquirer more deeply into the ground.

We’ve covered the trap of hyper-local journalism, where you jettison Casablanca coverage for a vague promise of local ads and readers already owned outright by established local papers.

Then surely, as he has promised, Norcross’s reinvented plan for the web will save the day – and allow a strong editorial presence.

Again, his inexperience in the business stands out.

Two newspapers seem to have found the right formula for online: The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Both do it through this formula:

They know and respect the fact that Casablanca type coverage is essential and core to their business.
They allow free browsing of their websites.
But the “free” goes only so far and is “metered” so that at five or ten stories a flag pops up for the month and says please subscribe.
This has popped revenues for the two publications, but the results also pose a serious warning to others. The “pay wall” works but only to a point. It does not come close to repeating the old magic formula where ads paid the freight for the whole enterprise.

Nancy Phillips
New types of “native advertising” are needed, as are events and memberships. And most importantly: a very strong print product.

Compare the Norcross strategy, which is an inferior version of an already failed and disastrous plan by The Boston Globe: Run two websites, one free and one pay-walled and present two distinct faces of your product to the public.

Bill Marimow
In the real world, this means that Philly.com exists as the free “link-bait” driven, tarted-up face of The Inquirer and Daily News, while the real websites of the two publications, with more suitable demeanors, lay behind a formidable pay wall, without any sort of metered introduction, and no promotions.

The result?

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer home page – the real Inquirer – gave an update on the 16,000 still without power in its region.

Philly.com told you about an app that allowed you to hook up with fellow fliers and have sex in the bathroom.

The strategy there is based on long ago tactics of pumping up page hits. The airplane sex blog is a quick redo of what is trending on search engines or Twitter and repeated on Philly.com in hopes that more search engines will find Philly.com and present more pages so that automatic web ad placement services will through a few micro-cents toward Philly.com. (766,361 other mentions of this app were present on Google at this writing, to give you a feel for the near infinite pit of competition Philly.com casts itself into.)

The problem with that should be self-evident to any marketer or economist. When you commoditize your news in such a manner, you remove your value proposition. You’ll always be running in tenth or twentieth place in rankings, drain your local value, and be assigned low-rent “belly fat” ads.

Worse, such web ad rates have plunged into the basement and below in recent months, as algorithms grow crueler and crueler to such pretenders.

And thus does the Norcross strategy consume itself.

He wants to fire Bogey and Bergman– and hire a few more extras. His strategy decreases the chances that the Inquirer will write its local versions of Casablanca, lowers the editorial quality, and undermines the revenue base in one deft and utterly complete misunderstanding of the business.

My guess is this will be a shock to him.

He is used to being the smartest guy in the room. And perhaps he has been.

But it’s never been this big a room. Or this type of room. And he’s never had this spotlight.

He’s put himself in a place where he can’t be the victor, even if he succeeds in winning the court battle.

George Norcross, the ultimate ‘can do’ guy, has put himself in a can’t win situation.

One hopes The Inquirer will write a big Casablanca of a story about that someday. That is, if Norcross does not succeed in turning a once grand newspaper into a South Jersey shopper.

“Hey, you, Mr. Frump, who are you to say to us our sons and brothers and husbands are all dead? Who are you to say there is no hope?”

Those words from Lotte Fredette some 30 yearUnknowns ago ring in my ears as the Malaysian airline saga proceeds today. She would become a friend, a confederate, a colleague over the decades, a strong voice for ship safety and reform. But then she was spitting mad, her gentle German accent pointed and clipped.  I felt the intensity of her eyes long before I met her in person.

The Phillies had just won the World Series and in the shadow of the stadium in October 1980, the SS Poet had slipped away, cleared the Capes of the Delaware and sailed out into the Gulf Stream where it simply disappeared, along with 34 officer and crew, including Lottie’s beloved son.

I had filed a few short stories on the missing ship and then, after consulting search experts, filed a longer story stating that in all probability the ship and those on her were lost.

“Look, these are just the hard facts,” I told Lotte over the phone.  “I’m the messenger here of bad tidings, and I am sorry for your loss, but if no one else has made it clear to you, I guess the story does.  The ship is almost certainly gone, m’am.”

She implored me to continue covering the story and pressure the Coast Guard to continue searching for the ship.  It was a fair enough request to simply quote her and the group of parents, husbands and siblings who were behind the request.  At their invitation, I slipped into a Coast Guard briefing on Governor’s Island in New York, and reported the heartfelt grief of the families.  I was not in a position to shut down all hope.  Who was?

Perhaps if this were a lost passenger ship or a lost airliner, I would have pursued the search for months and months, as the current news media is now.  Eyeballs do not attach themselves to merchant ship losses.  If they did, CNN would be busy.  A big ship goes down at sea on average once a month, with little fanfare other than the sobs of Filipino wives, Senegalese mothers, Haitian sisters and the relatives of other third world crew members.   Even American deaths could not hold the headlines long.

For Lotte and me this may have been a blessing.  Make no mistake. The survivors did not fare that well.  A friend wrote a book about the SS Poet and of particular pain was the inability of the survivors to come to term with the deaths of those never found — and no certain cause of death.  At the extreme, there was no certainty of death.

But at least they did not twist in the wind at every CNN report, every “ping” and every political and expert comment.

Every year on the anniversary, they would take the Cape May-Lewes Ferry round trip and at the mouth of the Delaware Bay at the rough point where last contact was made with the Poet, drop flowers and a wreath.

And the rest of the years, Lotte and a dedicated corps of Poet relatives turned their attention to reforming the maritime safety industry.  As did I.  The SS Poet hearing was a laugh and a coverup of an American system that sent old unsafe ships like the Poet out to sea.  Three years later “the Poet mothers” (as I came to call them) attended the hearing of the wreck of the SS Marine Electric and heard the late Captain Robert M. Cusick take the witness stand and blow the lid off that bad system.  Five years later, the entire system would implode thanks to those who maintained hope for the system and the pragmatic patience to force that system to work.

Some still spin stories of the Poet’s fate, some in good faith, others from boredom or delusion.  Drug dealers hijacked it.  Or Reagan shipped arms to Iran in an “October Surprise Scenario” and Lottie’s son and the crew are still alive in a secret compound in Iran.  I’ve thumped those melons; none seemed ripe.  Or real.

But you can peddle hope and mystery for a long time if you don’t thump very hard.

I wonder some whether I would have jumped onto the “hope” story if there had been more popular demand for stories about missing mariners.  There is a natural appeal to those.  The child in the well.  The miners in the shaft.  They are legitimate stories.

To a point.  But at what point are they not?

There are no doubt survivors who bless CNN for its continued coverage and keeping the heat on officials.  There are for sure those who are suffering by the moment as the coverage continues.   Hope grasps at all that floats by.

At what point does the continued reporting turn salacious? At what point is “hope” turned into a sick trick for sweeps week?

Those aren’t original thoughts.  As a newsman, I know they are not as easy to answer as I might think.  But as one who has gone through this several times in my career, I know there is an overall commandment: report hope and report truth.

I know that I was wrong all those years ago to suggest there was no hope for the relatives of the Poet crew.  But I know too that when hope becomes the dominant element in your reporting, you are no longer a reporter.  Or  friend.

 

Time will tell whether Gwyneth Paltrow’s theory of “Conscious Uncoupling” will have some positive value for us.

“Time” in this case is measured in the minutes, hours, days it takes until our teeth stop hurting at the truly tragic use of “conscious” and “uncoupling” in a sentence published outside “Manual for Modern Model Railroaders” or the perennial veterinarians’ classic canine field guide, “First Take a Bucket of Water.”

I mean her no harm. Divorce can be good. Best of luck. Sometimes it’s just common sense. Make it as gentle as you can, Gwyn! You don’t really have to say anything more.

Ahh, but you did. And you said so much more. It was like a product launch. And your guru “doctors” said so, so much more to justify it – something I certainly don’t require of you.

But since you did, I just wanted to run over a few things with you.

gp-chris2

Conscious Uncouplers

Above all, you have the right to remain silent. In fact, I can begin a Kickstarter campaign in support of you there. Just give me the word.

Second, you have the right to facts. And I’m not sure you’re actually getting them.

Unconscious  Coupling

Unconscious Couplers

Essentially, your gurus, Dr. Habib Sadeghi and Dr. Sherry Sami, are saying it’s really not your fault. We all live so much longer now, no wonder you have a wandering eye and can’t stay in the marriage.

 

Here’s their headline:

No previous generation ever has had to commit to decade after decade of marriage.

It’s so hard now!

Hey, everyone used to die off at age 45 in 1900. Today, we all live into our 80’s.

It’s not you Gwyn!

Unknown

Doctor Who?

Or as the gurus say:

“For the vast majority of history, humans lived relatively short lives—and accordingly, they weren’t in relationships with the same person for 25 to 50 years. Modern society adheres to the concept that marriage should be lifelong; but when we’re living three lifetimes compared to early humans, perhaps we need to redefine the construct.”

Who am I to argue with such science and such learned doctors?

He an osteopath. She a dentist. And of course, he is a contributor to Fox News, famous for its fact-based reporting.

I am but a humble layman who sincerely would love to get into a black jack game with these two jokers, who appear to have no understanding of averages and statistics.

I first understood the basic “misconnect” of this type of life expectancy theory when I was in Tanzania a few years back in the mud hut areas, where people had an average life expectancy at birth of 43 years.

And there were old people everywhere. Ancient folks! Older than me! Were the stats wrong?

No. My perception was. The averages were right. Lots of people died moments after childbirth. Lots of people never made it to age 6. And lots of people who lived past ten, made it to 60, many to 80 and beyond.

You can drown in a creek with an average depth of two feet because of the same skew in numbers and distribution. Deep parts, shallow parts all make up an average.

Which is why you don’t want to go swimming in Gwynn’s Gurus’ fake sociological creek.images

 

In real life, if you live to 80 and your brother dies at age three minutes, your average sibling life is 40.

In other words, in rural Tanzania, if you made it to age eighteen, and could trap Gwyneth in a CCC (Conscious Coupling Contract), hey you had a good chance of seeing 60 at least.

(Though probably not if you named your kids Apple and Moses.)

You’d be married for three, four, five decades and live a long life. Shame about your baby brother, but that’s how averages work in poor undeveloped countries.

Same goes for us in the West centuries ago.

Gwynn, had you really married Shakespeare, you’d have been coupling for thirty years, if you were around 22 in the movie. (Though whose to say how that would have turned out for Will with the stress and all.)

Yes, the gurus were right. The people in the US and England in the year 1900 had a low average life expectancy from birth. But this was because there were high death rates at birth and among children under ten. But if you made it to marrying age, you were good to go for many decades. Not everyone died at 45.

The 20th Century brought a super huge decrease in the numbers of infants and children dying and so the average life span goes up. Thanks to the science that Gwynn’s doctors don’t seem to have a really firm grasp on.

And yes, there has been an increase in how long we live in modern times. But not with the sea-change impact described by Gwynn’s Gurus.

There has been no dawning of some new age where we suddenly are married for 25 or 50 years and our bleepin’ wheels are coming off because we only lived in marriages for five or ten years in the good ole days.

Those sorts of many year marriages have been common for centuries. Even if you died at age 43, you got married at age 18. And most eligible men and women who lived to marrying age in the 1900s lived many years longer than the average death rate.

My point is this: you don’t need this sort of pseudo science crap to justify divorce. It’s an immensely wrenching event for almost everyone and it’s between you, your spouse, your counselors, your friends and your family.

Most particularly, it should not involve an osteopath and a dentist who appear incapable of mastering sixth grade story problems and have an outsized influence over tragically tin-eared stars and starlets who give pretentious names to an age old phenomenon.

As to me, I’m fond of long marriages. Both mine and those of my friends. You learn different ways of knowing and loving.

If you’re not, then of course do something else and go consciously couple someone else.  I hear Gwynn can really cook.

When We Were Heroes

Posted: March 28, 2014 in Contemporary Commentary

When We Were Heroes
(I’ve been asked to submit a short remembrance of what it was like to be a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer in its hay days. Here’s a first draft.)

We had a good tip from the Roundhouse that the family of a young man shot to death by a Philadelphia policeman would talk to us, but when we got to the poor neighborhood in North Philly on a Sunday, we saw that KYW-TV-3 News had arrived first.

KY did not seem that happy about it.

The news crew was in trouble with the locals, surrounded by an angry crowd of about 50 in the intersection. Inquirer photographer Sharon Wohlmuth, a half block up from me and across the street, caught my eye and shook her head ever so slightly, her mouth compressed in a grimace. Sharon was a street smart photographer but now her camera was palmed and covered by her scarf. Cameras were targets today.

And it was getting mean, nothing I wanted any part of. The young men in the crowd were bubbling mad. This kind of street scene was common in the late 1970s Philadelphia of Mayor Frank Rizzo, where “racial tension” was more permanent climate than this week’s weather. The shooting may or may not have been justified but such was the record of Rizzo’s police that the poor just figured they’d been popped again and the street was where you represented.

This crowd was taking it out on the camera crew. The people pushed and shoved toward the crew and then one young man hauled back and popped the sound man with a full round house right.

The guy on the crew was big and took the shot, but he was stunned. It looked like he might go down on the next one. The hitter knew what he was doing– in crouched boxer mode now coming in for a second swing. The crowd erupted with cheers. And the woman executive producer bravely leaned in to try to shield the sound man. From half a block away I could see that this was going to hell fast when out of nowhere a firm and commanding voice boomed through the air.

“HEY! DO NOT TOUCH THAT MAN! YOU BACK AWAY FROM HIM RIGHT NOW! NOBODY TOUCH THOSE PEOPLE! YOU PEOPLE BACK UP NOW!”

Whoever the bastard was yelling, he had balls, so I was particularly astounded to find that the words were coming from me. I had flushed from cover and was striding the half-block rapidly and authoritatively toward the crowd. The crowd members in turn swiveled toward me and away from the sound guy. None of what I did was premeditated or thought out. This Charge of the Wonk Brigade came from nowhere and I had no idea where it was headed.

Without stopping, I next reached for my wallet and held my press pass far overhead in one hand as if it were a detective’s shield.

“PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER! PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER! I’M FROM THE PHILADELPHIA INQURER! “

I was at the edge of the crowd, which had quieted now and even the hitter was listening.

“I’m the press! We’re the press, okay? You all know the Philadelphia Inquirer, right? Right? The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“We’re the people who wrote the stories about how Mayor Rizzo’s police department beats people up right? You all remember those stories, right? We’re the newspaper that stood up to Rizzo.”

There was a general bobbing of heads and a “hell yes” here and there.

“Well that’s what the press does, right? We ask the hard questions. And when something like this happens, we come out and tell your story, right?”

There was more nodding.

“Okay, that’s what we are here for, to let you tell your story, so we aren’t just telling Mayor Rizzo’s story, but yours too. And THESE people are press too. They’re from television, KYW, Larry Kane, right? THEY want to tell your story, too, both sides, isn’t that right?”

The four-person crew, which had been unhanded, energetically bobble-headed in the affirmative. The executive producer, part of a breed of the toughest women on earth, was looking at me with feelings of affection – perhaps the first ever in her life toward a member of her own species.

“Okay, well here’s what we’re going to do. You start setting up your camera over there, okay? Everyone who wants to tell their story to KYW, form a line here, okay? And KYW you listen to what they have to say, okay?”

It was under control by now and Sharon Wohlmuth and I huddled with the two guys who seemed in charge and were organizing the lines. Now I was doing some forward thinking of a less heroic type. Most of the journalistic ethics I studied were written by B. Hecht.

“Guys,” I said quietly to them, “do you know where the victim’s family is staying?” They nodded yes. “Well Sharon and I would like to go talk to them, okay?” They nodded yes.

“Great, you stay here and keep the line going,” I said to one of the young men. To the other I said, “You take us to the family, okay?”

“You want the TV people to come?” that guy asked.

“Nah,” I said. “They’re good here. You protect them and keep them busy. Make sure everyone gets to talk to them.”

I think Sharon snorted then.

We spent the next hour talking with the extended family of the man, with Sharon working her magic of light and lenses.

We came out and the line was still long. The executive producer of the KYW crew was a little less thankful in the look she shot my way. Yes, we had spared them a beating, but they weren’t getting close to the real story we’d just logged. I shrugged my shoulders and waved as we left. She nodded her head but there were daggers coming from her eyes.

End of the day, it was a story and spread nicely done. Not a blockbuster, but a good three columns on the front page below the fold with a great photo out front and a spread on the jump, as I recall. It gave me a good enough feeling that I stuck around for the press run.

That was always a good feeling on the fifth floor any night. No noise or hum as the presses started, but the yellow Number Two pencil with the chew marks laying on the slot desk would begin to move slightly, jiggle just a bit as the press climbed in pitch and momentum, sending shivers through the building’s beams. Then the pencil would break tension with the desk and roll across the desk as the presses tached up all the way and you could hear the baritone hum barely in the distance.

It’s not a story I tell often because people might think I saw myself as the Audie Murphy of Philadelphia. I wasn’t. (That was Rod Nordland.) I was as surprised as anyone at what I did.

It’s not that I chose to act. And that’s the point to me of why the story is worth retelling. It seemed then and now that acts like that were simply written into the deal if you worked at The Inquirer as a journalist.

The place literally was compelling. Not in some passive sense of the verb. It compelled. It required. The press meant something. The times meant something. The Inquirer meant something. There were things you had to do and you did them without thinking.

We were a part of something good and, yes, I’ll say it: Bigger than ourselves.

No, it wasn’t World War II. Or Little Rock or Selma. But I wasn’t the only one who felt like this. The Inquirer meant something to readers too. It’s “brand” literally stopped mobs in their tracks.

Fortunately for me.

The recent news that George Norcross III sent out emails macing employees and staff reporters of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News was explained away by a Norcross spokesman as an oversight.  The emails asked that the reporters attend George’s brother Don’s campaign fund raiser for Congress.

It seems there was a goof-up.   The names were not expunged from Norcross’s regular data base of emails used for political purposes. He apologized.

Nothing to see here folks, just a little blip, move on.

Exterior3

Connor-Strong NJ HA

I tend to believe that.  Norcross is far too smart a guy to try to mace reporters. Intentionally. For starters, he knows they are broke.   Somebody in his regularly well-oiled campaign screwed up and did not clean up the campaign data base.

But in that explanation and attempted extrication comes a more serious and complex tangle for George III.

Did George, the executive vice chairman of Connor-Strong & Buckelew, violate his own insurance company’s “governance” rules? Intentionally, or through negligence, did he co-mingle his corporate and political job functions by maintaining a campaign data base and distribution system  within the Connor-Strong system?

By sending out emails from his corporate account at Connor-Strong in Parsippany, NJ, did he, so to speak, ethically screw the pooch? And violate his own governance rules designed to keep Connor-Strong from violating laws prohibiting insurance firms from directly contributing to campaigns?

Ironman with power disk

Ironman with power disk

It is not a small question.  Electronic campaign systems are the souls of new political machines.  You know that little disc “Iron Man” keeps putting in his chest in the movies?  That’s what electronic campaign capability is to any modern candidate:  the most important power source.

And there seems to be no doubt that the emails were sent from Norcross’s company account. Note the news story reference:

The mailed messages were sent by Donald Norcross’ congressional campaign committee to reporters at the two IGM newspapers. Those sent electronically came from George Norcross’ e-mail address at his insurance firm, Conner, Strong & Buckelew.

norcross head

George III

The emphasis above is mine because it is key to a larger question.  How does George Norcross, the self- acknowledged political boss of South Jersey, manage to be both a political force while serving as Executive Chairman — the guy at the top of the masthead — at an insurance firm that proudly proclaims that it takes part in no politics, because that would violate the law?

Or, to quote the “governance” of Connor-Strong:

Under the laws of many jurisdictions, Conner Strong & Buckelew is legally prohibited from making political contributions as a business entity and may be otherwise disqualified by law from receiving the award of certain public contracts should certain political contributions be made.

A.        Conner Strong & Buckelew shall not make any political contributions, whether monetary or in-kind, to candidates for political office, candidate committees, political party committees or other similar initiatives.  

B.         No officer, director or shareholder of Conner Strong & Buckelew (as well as their respective spouses, partners and dependent children residing within the household) shall make any political contributions, whether monetary or in-kind, to candidates for political office, candidate committees, political party committees or other similar initiatives. 

C.        Notwithstanding paragraph B above, Conner Strong & Buckelew does permit its employees, including officers, directors and shareholders (as well as their respective spouses, partners and dependent children residing within the household) to make political contributions to candidates for federal offices, which includes President of the United States, United States Senate and United States House of Representatives. All contributions must comply with applicable law.  

The synopsis and fair interpretation of the notwithstandings and heretofores?

As an individual and employee of Connor-Strong, George can walk down the street buck naked with a barrel around him marked Don Norcross for Congress.  As an individual, he can throw out dollar bills on behalf of his brother running for Congress.  No harm, no foul.

But he can’t do that in a Connor-Strong barrel. Or from his offices in Connor-Strong.  Or from systems owned by Connor-Strong. From email at Connor-Strong.  Or campaign data bases housed by Connor Strong.  Because that means the company has made some sort of in-kind contribution to a political campaign.  And that means George may have run afoul  of his corporate governance guidelines — at the very least.

Don Norcross

Don Norcross

If the news reports are correct, that is what George the Trois may have done.  And not in a trifling way.  George Norcross III — or someone in his office — sent out emails to thousands of people from the company account of the Executive Chairman, the top man at the firm. And the data base of 10,000, one must therefore assume, is also stored and maintained on Connor-Strong servers, else he could not have done the mass mail merge needed to send out the invites.

Such data bases and distribution systems aren’t some sort of fiddle-dee-dee technicality.  Modern campaigns require them.  The idea that a few reporter names may have sloppily been left on the data base is understandable and forgiveable.  The fact that a campaign data base and distribution  system is housed within Connor-Strong and paid for by Connor-Strong is not.

Such systems are expensive to maintain, keep up to date, and tune.  A well-run social media and email campaign was at the heart of the Obama successful 2012 campaign.  The fact that Connor-Strong apparently is providing that service to a political campaign raises some substantive questions, not just for “governance.”  The services are worth thousands if not tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There simply ARE no campaigns without sophisticated data bases and distribution systems these days. A snail campaign to 10,000 people at an outside agency would easily cost $10,000.  An email campaign?  Gathering the names?  Storing them?  Sending them out? Receiving contacts back?  Probably around the same $10K at minimum.

So  the fact that Don Norcross is benefitting from a campaign housed within and paid for by Conner-Strong would not be a small matter.  The question is street-truth serious.

Why? The point made by the insurance firm is clear so let me state it again:

Under the laws of many jurisdictions, Conner Strong & Buckelew is legally prohibited from making political contributions as a business entity and may be otherwise disqualified by law from receiving the award of certain public contracts should certain political contributions be made. 

Perhaps it is time for the governance committee at Conner Strong  to pop the hood on its computer and see if it says, “Powered by Norcross for Congress 2014″ on the engine block.  And if they don’t, perhaps one of the jurisdictions might help them.

“The key to good content,” Michael Bloomberg told me years ago, before he was mayor, “is the ability to write Casablanca.”

bob frump pic

Frump

“You can aggregate all the data you want about World War II, Northern Africa, gambling and the underground, but you can’t copy Casablanca.”

The context for that long ago meeting was a content exhibition where my employer at the time, a bond rating agency, feared Bloomberg would get into their business. He would not, he said, because the company essentially was the Casablanca of bond raters and did something Bloomberg could never match.

Local and regional newspapers, if they are to succeed, need to be focused on creating the conditions that create Casablanca.  They don’t need to do that on a daily basis, but the readers need to know they can count on it frequently enough.  The newspaper, to add value, must present something that no other local weekly or monthly magazine can.bogie

All of which is a roundabout but necessary way to explain why the fight among owners at The Philadelphia Inquirer is not just about “business” – as most writers have suggested – but about the quality of the paper.

Part-owner George Norcross, a good businessman who is also a self-acknowledged ruthless boss of South Jersey Democrats, has proposed a number of “reforms” to the newspaper that he believes will place it back on a solid financial situation.

He has over the past year closed down the op-ed page, insisted that five top editors be fired and replaced with seven New Jersey reporters, placed his young rookie daughter more or less in charge of a free website, and sought to dismiss the top editor, Bill Marimow, and the city editor, Nancy Phillips.

If only the newspaper follows this good business plan, he has said, then the paper will regain a robust financial standing and serve as a valuable “fourth estate” in the plan by giving the readers what they want.

norcross head

Norcross

In a brilliant bit of sleazy but successful channeling of Karl Rove and Lee Atwater, he also has flipped the debate of the recent controversies by putting Marimow and Phillips in the dock for somehow “meddling” in the newsroom.  Of course, if you are running the newsroom, it’s hard to say how your best editorial judgments comprise “meddling.”

Through leaks and innuendo, though, Norcross has taken his opponents’ strengths and positive motives and turned them into something dark and suspect.  Largely this is because the local media outlets can’t help but swallow the seductive story line without examination or counterbalance.  Largely, it’s been salacious and self-parodying as writers have focused on tangential affairs of an excellent woman journalist whose success and power, apparently, must be consigned to that same dangerous feminine libido of great Tea Party concern.  The local stories, in various forms, all seem to somehow suggest Phillips is a seductive witch who twists men around her little figure.

That’s nonsense of course.  She just sends them to jail when they kill people.  She’s a great investigative reporter.  But I’ve covered that before.

What is not so clear to readers is how exactly Norcross’s businesses plan infringes on editorial quality and presents ethical concerns.

I can help you there. I’ve run newspapers, both editorial and business side.  I’ve published magazines.  I’ve been creating and hawking websites since 1996. Still am. I know a little bit about this.

So let’s go back in time – not far back in time – and see what sort of “Casablancas ” The Inquirer has written.  And not far back in time mind you.  Let’s say March 25, 2012, and the story: “

Powerful Medicine: How George Norcross used his political muscle to pump up once-ailing Cooper Hospital.

 The piece is a classically good piece of investigative and analytical reporting where the two authors take a look at the Norcross machine in motion. Even-handed and fair, the article details how a hospital has fueled Norcross’s political steam roller and it reads a little like a sub-plot of All the King’s Men, where a fictional Huey Long both creates and then distorts institutions of good to his ends.

Born at Cooper, Norcross is unabashed in his enthusiasm for the hospital that he sees as performing vital medical, economic, and social roles. He also sees it as crucial to the rebirth of the city.

He adds: “I’ve come to see that Cooper’s interests and Camden’s are inseparable.”

But there’s something else that is inseparable – Norcross’ political muscle and Cooper’s agenda. In some ways, the hospital has become another piece of his political apparatus, to the mutual benefit of Democrats and Cooper.

In politics-drenched New Jersey, it’s not unusual for hospitals, with their big payrolls, big budgets, and big thirst for government money, to be political players. But few play the game as aggressively or with as much firepower as Cooper.

No other nonprofit hospital in New Jersey spends so much on lobbyists. In fact, it ranks among the top 25 nonprofit hospitals in America for lobbying expenditures according to national data.

With $775 million in annual revenue, Cooper is the largest hospital in South Jersey. And over the years, firms with ties to board members or those with a pattern of donations to Democrats in Norcross’ base of Camden County have won millions of dollars in hospital-related contracts, public records show.

Among those working at Cooper in recent years: Norcross’ insurance business and the law firm of his brother.

None of this is illegal. But the flow of campaign donations from firms doing business with the hospital has helped sustain Norcross’ Democratic organization, which over the last two decades has not only established control in towns and counties in South Jersey but has also become a driving force in the state capital.

To pull off this type of story – informative, insightful, fair – you need experienced editors and reporters.  And when you do it, you gain the eyes and ears of readers, not just in South Jersey but also across that state and Philadelphia as well.

Cut those experienced editors and reporters, or reassign them to the chicken-dinner circuit in South Jersey and you l

grizzly

ose the advantage of Casablanca coverage.  You lose your distinction.


This is so because of the truth of an old adage in marketing strategy:  The deciding factor in a battle between a grizzly and crocodile is terrain.  Or in this case, the battle between one big grizzly and a hundred smaller crocs.

The Inquirer cannot go into the swamps of micro-local coverage and expect to win a battle against the myriad array of local publications and websites, even if it executes wonderfully on its local coverage.

The local publications — the hundreds of little crocs — own this space.  I’ve seen it tried time and time again, by The Philadelphia Bulletin, with its hyper-local editions; by The Inquirer, with its well-done “Neighbors” sections; by The Washington Post most recently as it gave almost block-by-block coverage of its surroundings.

The big grizzlies emerge from the swamp with a dozen crocs hanging from their ears, noses and mouths, their tails between their legs and and nothing else to show for it.

At weeklies and “Patch-like” web sites, low rate ads and free subscriptions support a low-paid staff of stringers and hobbyists.  Small weeklies are inherently adapted to that biosphere. But big metros can’t run in that terrain.  Even if they are changed in how they gather and present news, they never will obtain that level of local readerships imitating their smaller adversar

baby crocs

The past thirty years gives the lie to any such strategy.

So if hyper-local journalism for metros has been thoroughly disproved, why is Norcross so vigorously following it?  Is he actively attempting to undermine good investigative reporting, or just dumb about the business history of newspapers?

My guess is the latter, but the former comes hand-in-hand by his mere presence.  His reputation for succeeding at all costs, makes me think he thinks he is actually steering the business in the right direction.  He is also acting with the impulse of a politician who has run some masterful campaigns using regional marketing.

But many of those campaigns have been negative attack ads, aimed at a short-term goal of turnout on one Election Day.  Every day is election day when you are in the newspaper business and readers vote you up and down each day.  He does not seem to grasp that, having not run positive campaigns for a real product or service, just “rip your face off” framing of politicians.

Through his misunderstanding of the business of publishing, then, he is demoting quality Casablanca coverage to chicken-dinner coverage in South Jersey.

But beyond that business shortcoming is the political advantage of demoting such coverage:  No more stories on Norcross.  No more stories on his political allies.  And no more stories like that on his nominal political opponents, who he also needs to deal with. (Norcross was thought to have made a general cease-fire political deal with Republican Chris Christie; at the very least, Norcross did not oppose him vigorously during the last election.)

That is the biggest conflict here, one touched gently upon (but admirably enough) by a Philadelphia Magazine story by Steve Volk.

Norcross is the conflict, because he is one of the biggest stories in the region.  He can’t possibly run the business (through factotum publishers) without placing the paper in conflict.

But he is.

And the manner in which he is running that business will only drive The Inquirer more deeply into the ground.

We’ve covered the trap of hyper-local journalism, where you jettison Casablanca coverage for a vague promise of local ads and readers already owned outright by established local papers.

Then surely, as he has promised, Norcross’s reinvented plan for the web will save the day – and allow a strong editorial presence.

Again, his inexperience in the business stands out.

Two newspapers seem to have found the right formula for online: The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Both do it through this formula:

  • They know and respect the fact that Casablanca type coverage is essential and core to their business.
  • They allow free browsing of their websites.
  • But the “free” goes only so far and is “metered” so that at five or ten stories a flag pops up for the month and says please subscribe.

This has popped revenues for the two publications, but the results also pose a serious warning to others.  The “pay wall” works but only to a point.  It does not come close to repeating the old magic formula where ads paid the freight for the whole enterprise.

nancy phillips

Nancy Phillips

New types of “native advertising” are needed, as are events and memberships. And most importantly:  a very strong print product.

Compare the Norcross strategy, which is an inferior version of an already failed and disastrous plan by The Boston Globe:  Run two websites, one free and one pay-walled and present two distinct faces of your product to the public.

Marimow

Bill Marimow

In the real world, this means that Philly.com exists as the free “link-bait” driven, tarted-up face of The Inquirer and Daily News, while the real websites of the two publications, with more suitable demeanors, lay behind a formidable pay wall, without any sort of metered introduction, and no promotions.

The result?

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer home page – the real Inquirer – gave an update on the 16,000 still without power in its region.

Philly.com told you about an app that allowed you to hook up with fellow fliers and have sex in the bathroom.

The strategy there is based on long ago tactics of pumping up page hits.  The airplane sex blog is a quick redo of what is trending on search engines or Twitter and repeated on Philly.com in hopes that more search engines will find Philly.com and present more pages so that automatic web ad placement services will through a few micro-cents toward Philly.com. (766,361 other mentions of this app were present on Google at this writing, to give you a feel for the near infinite pit of competition Philly.com casts itself into.)

The problem with that should be self-evident to any marketer or economist.  When you commoditize your news in such a manner, you remove your value proposition.  You’ll always be running in tenth or twentieth place in rankings, drain your local value, and be assigned low-rent “belly fat” ads.

Worse, such web ad rates have plunged into the basement and below in recent months, as algorithms grow crueler and crueler to such pretenders.

And thus does the Norcross strategy consume itself.

He wants to fire Bogey and Bergman– and hire a few more extras.  His strategy decreases the chances that the Inquirer will write its local versions of Casablanca, lowers the editorial quality, and undermines the revenue base in one deft and utterly complete misunderstanding of the business.

My guess is this will be a shock to him.bogie 2

He is used to being the smartest guy in the room.  And perhaps he has been.

But it’s never been this big a room. Or this type of room.  And he’s never had this spotlight.

He’s put himself in a place where he can’t be the victor, even if he succeeds in winning the court battle.

George Norcross, the ultimate ‘can do’ guy, has put himself in a can’t win situation.

One hopes The Inquirer will write a big Casablanca of a story about that someday.  That is, if Norcross does not succeed in turning a once grand newspaper into a South Jersey shopper.

Steve Volk in Philadelphia Magazine certainly moves the ball and establishes a high mark for reporting on the issue.

There’s still a fascination with Nancy Phillips as the dragon lady in this opera, which I feel is over wrought, but the examination in this article is worth the read and it’s good to see the coverage take on more depth and seriousness.  Certainly, he has dug more deeply into Norcross’s nastiness.

cropped-Volk0152

Steve Volk

The one problem Volk and everyone else covering the issue seems to have is: Source Club.  The leaked emails from Phillips came from somewhere and it does not take much imagination to suggest that either Bob Hall and George Norcross have crossed an ethical line, perhaps a legal line, in leaking these to Volk and others. 

But having received the emails, Volk can’t really write about that particular nefarious Norcross tactic, cause he would burn his source.  It’s a dilemma with which I’m not unsympathetic.  Any decent news person faces it.  The trick is not to be controlled by such leaks.  Somewhere down the line, Volk, who seems indeed to be a fair-minded journalist, needs to do a piece or blog on the overall Norcross campaign.  He can do that without blowing out his sources.  Just list all the damned leaks to all the damned media outlets over the last six months and point out they could not have happened without some official sanction from Bob Hall and the Norcross team.

My other nits on the Volk piece.  Three parts might have been fleshed out more. The chronology of escalating web conflicts of Philly.com parallel Norcross’s conflict with Marimow. And two: the horrid web strategy that Norcross is following, an inferior and lamer version of the Boston Globe, which has been a disaster, all at a time when web ad rates are crashing.  The savior of the paper will not be digital.  (Politico.com makes its money from ads in a D.C. paper version and from events and sponsorships.)
As to focus groups, those of us who have served on the biz side of publications know how laughable those can be. You can walk those anywhere you want and interpret them anyway you want.  Volk hints at this, but it’s worth a deeper dig.

Volk is right of course that the conflict of owners here is not sustainable. I think he and others covering the issue  still suffer from a sort of false objectivity here though by suggesting that Katz and Phillips somehow are equally to blame with Norcross.  There is an implication in the Volk story that Katz may somehow have finessed coverage of casinos in which his grandchildren had some interests, but it’s a very far reach.  As is the old canard of some funeral director claiming Katz told him it was okay to run someone’s obit in the paper.

From all that I can see, we are better off believing Norcross’s own words. He is the guy, as he says in Volk’s story, with the black hat.
I’d just like to see that and his web business incompetence in a story lede sometime rather than the overdone fascination with the affairs of heart of Nancy Phillips, who seems to me to be acting in the best interests of news, certainly not herself, in my humblest of opinions.

Ode to Christie Joe by Billie Jo Gentry-Frump

It was close to noon, another creepy crowded Jersey day
Chris was out eatin’ hoagies and drinkin’ straight from the bay.
He stopped and walked back to the house to get more to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door, “Y’all come and get some meat.”,
“I got some news this mornin’ before you hit that fridge,”
Your buddie Davey Wildstein closed off the whole goddamned G.W. Bridge”

Chris Christie said to Mama as she passed around the black-eyed peas
“Well, Davey never had a lick o’ sense, pass all the biscuits, please
“There’s five more taters in the oven, I think I could eat a cow…”
And Mama said it was a shame about poor Davey anyhow
“Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up near Fort Lee ridge
Now Davie Wildstein done gone and closed that whole fuckin’ bridge.”

Mama said to Chris, “Child what’s happened to your appetite?
I been cookin’ all mornin’ and you ate it in a single bite
“That nice young Attorney Ben Fishman dropped by today
“Said he’d be pleased to ask you questions Sunday, oh by the way
“He said he saw a guy that looked a lot like you by more’n a smidge
“And you and Bridget Ann Kelly was cone-in’ off the GW Bridge.”

And Davey recollected when he and Chris and Kim Guadagno
Put a frog down Dawn Zimmer’s back at the Hoboken picture show
And wasn’t Chris talkin’ to Kelly before the big jam last Tuesday night:
“You know it’s time for a traffic jam, does this suit look too tight?
“I saw Sokolich near the exit ramp yesterday on Fort Lee ridge…”
“Now you make that little Serbian jump off the George Washington Bridge…”

A year has come and gone since I heard the news ‘bout Christie’s woe,
Bridget Ann Kelly copped on Rico and is serving time in Tupelo..
There was a plea bargain goin’ round, Davey caught it and he walked last spring
And now Chris Christie doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything
He spends a lot of time shredding papers stacked near his open fridge
And drops them into the muddy water off the GW Bridge.

Aside  —  Posted: February 3, 2014 in Contemporary Commentary

Even Brian Williams and NBC Nightly News bit on it:  Ghost Ship Crewed by Cannibal Rats Heads to UK Shores.  

rat

Cannibal Rat, Artist’s Conception

Which in the end did show slightly better news judgement than the Huffington Post re-posting a 2011 shot of a deer that supposedly farts on camera – though the Huffers conceded it may all be a goof… a point that gives Huff integrity points over NBC.

The Cannibal Rat Crew story began with a London Mirror story about an old Russian cruise ship that broke loose from its moorings in Canada in early 2013 and drifted out to sea.  No one — not the bankrupt owners nor the Canadian government — would claim the ship in international water.

And so she floats. Maybe toward the UK and Scotland.  Maybe not. Maybe she sank. (Perhaps under the weight of those multiplying rats).

A year later, the UK tabs and the US press hot on their heals, decided the ship, was heading toward Scotland for some reason.  Then the scribes seized on a passing comment of one Belgian salvager,  Pim de Rhoodes, who said:

“She is floating around out there somewhere.

“There will be a lot of rats and they eat each other.

“If I get aboard I’ll have to lace everywhere with poison.”

The ship may have rats.  And rats have been known to cannibalize their young.  But how exactly would the rat population grow if the rats are living on, well, rats?  Is this some sort of new bio fusion?  Rat powered clean energy at last?

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Cannibal Rat Crewed Ghost Cruise Ship

Brian Williams did not think to ask, though and unlike the run-up to the Iraqi war, quickly connected the dots.  With a straight face, he said that cruise ship passengers on the North Atlantic might want to beware of the cannibal rat ship.

So perhaps the Huff Post had more integrity than NBC News.  At least with the farting deer, they were straightforward about why they ran the piece.

“While the fart looks real, there’s a large possibility the actual noise has been dubbed over. But that doesn’t stop it from being the best thing we’ve seen all day.”

Williams in fact may have served his audience more honestly by just saying in effect the same thing about Cannibal Pirate Ghost Ship Rats.  Not long after the unquestioned headline was broadcast by Williams, the network website began to backpedal — thank God.

The news was not that the ship was real, but that people thought it was.  And they sure were talking about it on Twitter. (Perception, we are told by our political pundits twice hourly, is everything, after all.)

In short, it was a rich day for non-news and non-events and an eighth-grade level of playground humor.  And it was interesting to see Huffington Post practice full transparency concerning its fart jokes, while Brian Williams sat down on a whoopy cushion with a straight face.

Perhaps tomorrow Mr. Williams will save TinkerBell from the cannibal rats by having us all clap our hands.

The battle between the owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer is seen by the local press less as a contest of a political boss versus crusading reporters — which it most certainly is — and more through the lenses of frat boys enjoying a good airing of the private lives of some of the women working at The Inquirer

The chief target is City Editor Nancy Phillips, whose relationship with owner Lewis Katz long has been disclosed.  She recused herself from any coverage of Katz and played a major behind the scenes role in bringing top editor Bill Marimow back to the paper.

Phillips is without doubt among the cast of players whose actions deserve close scrutiny.  Has she sacrificed good journalism for her relationship with Katz?  Has she in some way betrayed the trust of the public in helping to hire, say, Bill Marimow.

But reporters at Philadelphia Magazine and BigTrial.Net have taken a salacious attitude toward Phillips.

Here is how BigTrial.net covered the story:

One veteran political handicapper who knows all the players says his money’s on Norcross, because he’s the better in-fighter. “This is not his kind of battle,” the handicapper said of Katz.

“This is over pussy and bullshit, not money.”

Thus is Phillip’s career as one of the best investigative reporters at The Inquirer dismissed.  And thus too, one assumes, is Lexie Norcross, the 26-year-old daughter of owner George Norcross III, thrown into the pussy pool.

After all, BigTrial earlier suggested that a reality television cat fight between Lexie and Nancy would be far more interesting than the continuation of The Inquirer.

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Volk

The reductive rhetoric does not stop there by any means.  Philadelphia Magazine, as noted earlier, and Steve Volk,   fell for a leaked private email and slapped a big Scarlet A on Phillips. Here was his headline last week.
INQUIRER OWNERSHIP BATTLE:  “DARLING … ELIMINATE THE DAILY NEWS
It’s a tragedy because beneath the male snorts, chuckles and panting, there are real issues of press freedoms here.  Norcross after all sought to fire Marimow.  And the significance of that is best explained not by Philadelphia Magazine but an impassioned note to Volk — which still has not been answered — written by a pretty informed reader.

Here is the post, arguing the case better than I can.

Steve, there’s no denying you’re a good writer and reporter.
But I think, like a growing number of people out there you are succumbing to leaks and spins of the vicious New Jersey smear politics being applied to The Inquirer these days.
Talk to investigative reporter Alan Guenther about how he and his father were smeared after he did a three part series on George Norcross or activist and former state senator Alene Ammond. South Jersey political boss George Norcross 3d is known to be a past master at “destroying” opponents.
He now seems to be skillfully applying machine politics techniques to Inquirer/Daily News internal politics.

I worked with Nancy Phillips for close to 30 years. She has always been one of the toughest and smartest journalists I’ve ever met. She always had exacting standards for herself and those around her. I was never exposed to any of these airhead romance novel depictions being smeared all over her these days.

I came to learn of Katz and her relationship fairly late in the game. I scrutinized this relationship carefully and found no conflicts. Phillips was the type of reporter who fearlessly interviewed Camden’s biggest drug kingpins at his lair in Camden and then interviewed numerous lesser dealers in jail.

This was after that well-known a murderer confession to her in the case of the Cherry Hill rabbi’s wife. Her blunt reporting went after powerbrokers including George Norcross. Once again, I repeat, she is not the bon bon eating bubblehead that your headline depicts.

The closest thing to a true picture of her emerged in the 14th paragraph of your story that began: “Phillips is a highly respected reporter, logging 20 years of blue-collar effort…..”
Her recent investigative piece with Craig McCoy which helped reform Philadelphia courts verifies this.

She is blunt and plain-spoken and sometimes her bluntness can be impolitic, but she is a quick study whose clarity of vision quickly brings her down from careless offhand expressions like the Daily News comment.

I don’t know about that comment other than that those close to her said the statement may have been taken out of context. Anyone who read the Daily News Pulitzer Prize winning police probe knows how high quality the Daily News is. I doubt that Katz is planning to get rid of it, just as I don’t think he is planning to get rid of the Inquirer.

I have never heard Nancy advocate for a reductioin in any kind of journalism put out by PNI. Her goal, like Marimow’s and Katz’ has been to illuminate the community with as much excellent journalism as possible. Both she and Katz — who himself was an investigative reporter for Drew Pearson — love journalism and, I’m sure, would like the Inquirer and Daily News to continue to live up to those standards, even with austerity cuts and hi-tech updates. Katz’ stance on the Daily News was probably best expressed by the vignette quoted in your article, which he made while standing with Marimow

. I don’t expect my statement here to have much credence. But I hate to walk by a situation where someone is down and being kicked without saying something.

Phillips has become another victim of George Norcross’ despotic propaganda steamroller. Though she and Katz are disinclined to research and leak Norcross’ personal life, don’t be misled by Norcross’ crude approach to muscle-flexing.

One of the key phrases from that note?

I don’t expect my statement here to have much credence. But I hate to walk by a situation where someone is down and being kicked without saying something.

This is a sense of fairness that does not burden the rest of the news media in Philadelphia, a fact that illustrates perhaps more than ever how important it is to reclaim the integrity of The Inquirer from Norcross.

The issues here are not “pussy and bullshit.”  Far from it.  Except in this sense. It could be fairly said at this point that the rest of the news media has fallen big time for the Norcross media campaign.
So there are in fact a bunch of pussies masquerading as newsmen out there publishing bullshit.

(Note:  A reader points out that Volk did give Phillips appropriate credit for her journalistic accomplishments.  Volk did write:
“Phillips is a highly respected reporter, logging 20 years of blue-collar effort. She obtained a confession in the infamous murder of rabbi Fred Neulander’s wife. She is also winning plaudits in her new role as city editor, working late hours and peppering her charges with emails congratulating them on their good work. In short, she’s a good boss. And while, through Katz, a billionaire, she has access to the resources to be anywhere she chooses, she chooses to be in a big-city newsroom.”
So, let me credit him with that, but also note this was in the 14th paragraph, far beneath the “Darling” headline.  Perhaps the boudoir angle is just too big a magnet.  Volk has done a more balanced job than others, for certain, but that is a fairly low standard.  I’m still waiting for someone in Philadelphia journalism land to write the obvious: Norcross and his posse have mounted a deadly and destructive public relations offensive.)